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What is Ambition?

“What is the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur?”

When I was a sophomore in college, I took an entrepreneurship speakers series class, where, twice a week, we listened to presentations from a variety of business owners.  While simple, this was one of the most important classes I’ve ever taken, as it allows you to bridge the gap between textbook and reality.

One particular student asked the owner of a growing start-up what the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur is. Obviously, this is a very subjective question, and the guest speaker’s response was that to him there is no difference.

Personally, I disagree.  What is the difference in my opinion? The end goal. Are you happy with a small shop down the street, that you physically manage and operate on a daily basis, or are you a visionary? Do you see expansion? Do you want your small start-up to grow to international proportions while bringing in billions in gross revenue? I don’t see any reason not to. Then again, I am the type of person who cannot feel “trapped.”

Ambition and complacency, in my opinion, are opposites.  They are mutually exclusive. Yes, you should be happy with what you have, and obvious well-grounded and thankful for everything you have been given, but I feel as if you should always strive for more. Why start something if you’re not going to take it all the way? I didn’t invest thousands of dollars of whitewater kayaking equipment and travel expenses to only paddle class three.  I didn’t spend three and a half years acquiring a bachelor’s degree to settle down with some random job in some random town for the rest of my life. Why make investments if you’re only going to put in partial effort?

Do you really want something, or do you only kind of want it? I’m sure any rational person would want a large income, lots of travel, nice cars, and a plethora of world experiences. But how many are willing to work for it? Obviously, life is a give and take, and you have to make priorities. I’m not saying it’s all about financial success. If you want to be a successful musician, athlete, writer, etc. the process is similar. So, what really is ambition? In my opinion, two things: prioritization and sacrifice.

To make the most of something, you need to establish it as a priority. What does this mean? It means sacrifice is needed. What is less important, and what can you sacrifice? For example, I love skydiving, which requires large investments in equipment, as well as travel and other miscellaneous expenses. I want to take this sport as far as I can, and not have it just be a “weekend hobby.” I sacrifice time I could spend doing other stuff. I don’t live in a ridiculously expensive apartment even though I could afford one, because I want more money for fun. These sacrifices vary per person, and can include things such as food, living conditions, expensive cars, time with significant others, etc.

What do I think is the single largest killer of ambition? Geography. It should go without saying that willingness to relocate increases the pool of jobs available, and in many cases, can accelerate your career and company growth. I love where I grew up, and while I prefer to not stay there, would be willing to if the opportunity presented itself. However, too many people these days are afraid to leave their hometown or surrounding area. They don’t stay because of opportunity there, they stay because of fear. They are afraid to take risks, accept change, and try new things. All three of these are a necessary part of ambition and success. Part of moving forward in life is being able to leave things behind.

So, what is ambition? Ambition is the drive to not settle. Ambition is the ability to see a goal as so important you are not only able to make sacrifices to reach it, but you are able to justify them to yourself. Ambition is the belief that even if you are happy with your situation, you should not get comfortable.

Of course, this is different for everybody.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” Sure, some people have different definitions, and some people simply want to be comfortable with where they are at. I don’t like or agree with this mentality, but to each their own, and we need people like that. We all have different goals and different definitions of happiness. I don’t want to grow-up to be another quietly working complacent man wasting away in small town America. I want to set goals that might be slightly out of sight. I want dreams large enough to scare me.

I want to know that there is always more opportunity, more potential, and more to this world than I currently know. That is what I think ambition is.

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Uncategorized

Social Media – The Perfect Scapegoat

Social media is undoubtedly a hot topic in modern society.  To some it’s pointless, to some it’s the backbone of their daily life. While definitions may vary slightly, this article might very well be considered social media.  YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, HookIt, FourSquare, Snapchat, are all examples of this concept of social media that seems to conquer everyone’s life.  I probably could have even made up some platforms that don’t exist, included them in that list, and many people would accept them as real.  It has become so prevalent in daily life that some people ask why we need it, while others ask how we could live without it.

Alright, so what exactly is social media?  If you were to ask me to define it, without referencing any outside sources, I would say something along the lines of, “Social media is a platform that allows virtually anybody to share and receive information via electronic means.”  Some might challenge that definition as being too broad, as it would also include programs such as email, but every aforementioned platform I have named fits the criteria of that description.  I think the key part of this description is the phrase “virtually anybody,” as what we would often refer to as ‘standard’ media only allows for those in control to share information.  A common example of this would be a news source such as CNN, or the concept of network television.  While many people can receive information, only a select few can transmit that information.

Social media has its many benefits.  I personally have received athletic sponsorships and potential job offers through social media.  I have met friends, acquaintances, and even romantic partners through platforms such as Facebook.  The marketing and advertising potential for corporations is huge.  It is easier to spread information regarding a product of service via “word of mouth” means on a forum where you can reach hundreds or thousands of people at once.  In addition, collecting and analyzing data through concepts such as likes, views, and shares provides an edge to business.  Entire jobs in the field have opened up due to the potential financial benefits of social media technology.  Social media provides a new avenue to learn about different cultures, ideas, and geographic areas.  It also has its benefits on the political side, including giving a voice to people who might be ignored by mainstream media.

Of course, it has its downsides as well.  These range from cyber-bullying to physical danger from contact with an unwanted person to what is probably the most common argument of all: saying it overtakes people’s lives.  This opens a whole new discussion, one that I am trying to avoid getting into.  I will say, however, that I believe not having any social media whatsoever actually puts you at a strong disadvantage, as you are denying yourself access to potentially huge resources. Nonetheless, overuse or improper use has its negative effects as well.

I think there is one particular aspect of social media we need to focus on:

“Social media is the art of making your life appear more exciting than it actually is”

– Unknown

I, unfortunately, tend to agree with this quote.  Of course, this trend is not limited to social media; if anything it is a common occurrence in daily life.  When you advertise a product, you ignore the less-than-appealing parts.  The same generally goes for a sales representative trying to sell a good or service.  Even when pursuing potential friends or romantic partners, it seems that we highlight, or even exaggerate, the positive aspects of our life, while sweeping the negative underneath the rug.

I don’t think the problem actually comes from the act itself.  I tend to post a lot of positive things on Facebook.  Getting my pilot’s license, or my skydiving license, or graduating college, etc. these are all things that I have been very proud of and would like to share my success with the friends I have, and social media is a great way to do it.  Similarly, whenever I travel, or see or do something exciting, I don’t see anything wrong with posting about it.  If anything, I find it to be a potentially good way to inspire others, or at least open their minds to something new.

So what is the problem exactly?  It’s how people respond to perceived inadequacy.  If anything, it seems that it doesn’t matter what we actually do with our life, just how others perceive it.  We get involved in this race of trying to outdo others, when in reality, we don’t actually fix anything.  We just change the perception.

If the posts you see from others get you down, and make you feel that your life isn’t very exciting, make your life more exciting.  I’ve actually seen people remain dormant for long periods of time on Facebook, then when suddenly that one vacation to Mexico comes up, BAM suddenly it’s all over their profile, gathering likes left and right.  Or, even better, somebody does something they consider to be exciting once in their life, and it becomes their profile or cover photo for a long time, even though it doesn’t accurately represent how they live their life.

At the risk of sounding abrasive and unprofessional, I’m going to say something controversial that I believe is fact: many people live boring lives.  As Benjamin Franklin once allegedly said, “Some people die at age 25 and aren’t buried until age 75.”

What we’re doing is we’re blaming social media for this craze of people thinking their life isn’t exciting or glamorous enough, when in reality all social media is is simply a medium for people to exchange that information.  The problem didn’t start because of what some people posted on the internet; the problem started with how people would interpret and respond to it. I think some people are the problem, and some are not.  I encourage everyone to go onto Facebook and pull up the pages for each of the following people:

  • Jeb Corliss
  • Rush Sturges
  • Tyler Bradt

I can almost guarantee that seeing the adventures they post, not necessarily the extreme sports but even just the traveling and trying new things, will make many of us feel that our lives are somewhat “boring” or “too normal” or “inadequate.” However, this isn’t a ruse.  These people actually live the life they describe.  They don’t do that thing where they only do something exciting once a year then parade it all over Facebook, then once a month post it again with some “Throwback” caption.

I think the best compliment anyone has ever given me was, “How do I live your life?” or “Thanks for making my life more exciting.”  And, to be honest, my life pales in comparison to some of these guys, as well as where I want it to be. I skydive on average every weekend if weather and finances allow, I travel out of the state usually at least once each month, primarily for whitewater kayaking.  I’ve left work with a boat on my car to drive an hour and paddle a section of waterfalls after work.  I have a pilot’s license, and have flown across multiple states and back, as a “class” in college.  I love exploring, I love photography and videography, and I love extreme sports.  This is the life I live, and I have no qualms regarding posting about it somewhat regularly on social media.  My life circles around adventure and pushing new limits; that is how I define my life, and this is the life I aspire to continue living.  For this reason I have no qualms about posting photos on Facebook of myself skydiving or kayaking a waterfall or halfway across the country in some random state next to a statue or cool landscape.  The reason I have no qualms is because I feel like I’m not pretending.  I also don’t even feel like I’m reacting to somebody else, or trying to prove myself to others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all about excitement or adventure.  In fact, I see it with concepts such as “success” or “glamour” as well.  It’s not unreasonable to be perfectly content with your life, then see that your friend from college has landed a big-time corporate job and start to question yourself.  However, you just have to ask yourself two questions:

  • Should I use this as motivation or inspiration to try to do better things with my life?
  • How do I actually go about improving my life, for myself, and not just improving the face-value words and photographs I put on social media?

This actually reminds me of the episode of Family Guy where Peter goes to a high school reunion, wearing an astronaut costume, trying to pretend that he is some big-shot that he’s really not.  In my opinion, there are two alternatives to falsely claiming a life he didn’t have that he could have done: A) Actually live the life he was trying to represent, or B) Just be proud of the life he has, and not feel the need to lie or exaggerate to impress anybody

Personally, I do think we have a culture that condones and nurtures a “boring” life.  I tend to think that the societal definition of success focuses around money.  After all, somebody once said, “Go to school for sixteen years, then work until you die.”  I think our entire culture needs to be looked at in some regards.  I’m a believer of “work to live, not live to work.”  I think we need to do better to encourage an exciting life, even though that definition varies per person.  We live a life guided by fear.  Even worse is the fact that we actively deny it, and replace it with more positive-sounding terms such as “stability.”  We refuse to pursue our goals and passions because it involves a degree of risk.  What is that risk?  That risk is losing what we have, even though oftentimes what we have actually keeps us unhappy.  A good example is somebody being unafraid to pursue their dream job because they have another job with decent job security, even though that job is slowly killing them from the inside out.

So what are we doing instead?  We are using social media not only to lie about ourselves, but we are using it lie to ourselves.  We are using it to describe a life we don’t have because we are unwilling and afraid to pursue the life we want.

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Sports

A Skydiver’s Progression

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Taken October 25, 2015 at Cleveland Skydiving Center by Rich


  • How do I get into skydiving?” 

This is probably one of the more common questions I get when people find out I’m a skydiver.  There are countless others, ranging from pricing to height/weight/age requirements to how hard it is to breathe in freefall.  In all honesty, pick any dropzone, go to their website, and there’s a good chance you will find a FAQ section that lists all of these.  Sometimes it becomes so redundant that I see people give-up and start writing their own hilarious answers.  Nonetheless, there are a thousand different questions any prospective skydiver might have.  Hell, I probably asked my fair share during my first jump course as well.

As a quick disclaimer, I am not an Instructor, Coach, Rigger, DZO, I/E, S&TA, or any authority on skydiving whatsoever.  I am a newly-licensed jumper, holding an A License, as well as a licensed pilot and aeronautics graduate.  To some people, I’m a “videographer extreme sports junkie,” to others I’m “that crazy guy who jumps out of a perfectly good airplane.”  In reality I’m just a young, ambitious skydiver who loves the sport and loves seeing other people get into it.  So why am I writing this? Because I want people to hear a different perspective.  The one from somebody who just received their license.  Somebody who is fresh out of training, and has a clear memory on what training was like.  I will be avoiding technical discussion as much as possible, and being that I am not an instructor, nothing I write in this article is meant as technical advice in any aspect of skydiving.  If you decide to go skydiving, you make that decision as an adult, and I hope you, as an adult, are able to be patient, humble, and willing to learn and accept coaching from the trained professionals that you go with.


Going for a Skydive

I did my first skydive as a way to celebrate graduating high school, back in 2011.  In all reality, I couldn’t have cared less about graduating high school, and it was just an excuse to go do it.  I did this at Skydive Orange, via a tandem jump.

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Tandem is the easiest, cheapest, and safest method of instruction for a first jump, as well as the most common.  I say “instruction” because you are technically a student, even if you only plan on doing one jump and never coming back. Which is perfectly fine.  Skydiving is not for everyone.  However, I definitely think most people should give it a try at-least once.

On a tandem skydive, you are connected to an instructor via four attach-points on a harness: two at the waist, two on the shoulders.  The instructor wears a tandem rig, with a rather large canopy and a drogue parachute.  As a student, you clip on in front of the instructor, and both of you make the skydive together.  In the heavily paraphrased words of legendary skydiver Bill Booth, on his famous safety and liability video I’ve seen played countless times at many dropzones, “You are considered a student because what you do can have an impact on the skydive.”  In addition, he makes the comparison that this is NOT a theme-park ride.  In my opinion, tandem skydiving is extremely safe, but I am not going to sugarcoat it in any means just to convince people to do it.  It’s an extreme sport.  You should know that when you sign-up.  Now, if I’m going up for a jump, and I see a tandem student in the plane that is obviously very nervous?  I usually try to say something to calm them down and get them excited.  After all, it’s supposed to be fun.  Every single skydive you make should (and will) be fun.

Enough on that, though.  Any respectable dropzone will give you sufficient information on a tandem skydive, and I’m going to focus back on what this article is intended to describe: learning to skydive.


The Background Knowledge

Alright, so you want to learn to skydive.  You’ve seen the videos, heard the stories, and have always wondered how awesome it would feel to be a skydiver.  Maybe you want to take this sport professionally, maybe you just enjoy it and want a fun sport to do on the weekends.  You want to learn how to do it, but you don’t know where to start, and you have a thousand questions.  Or, maybe you have no interest in actually skydiving, but are just curious about it.  Either way, hopefully my descriptions of learning to jump are helpful or at least interesting.

Just for the sake of clarification, let’s throw some quick acronyms out there, to alleviate any future confusion:

  • USPA: United States Parachute Association.  An organization that acts as the industry governing body for skydiving, as well as for representing and growing the sport to the public
  • AFF: Accelerated Free Fall.  A common method of learning to skydive, and the one I did.  A training method where you jump “solo” (as in not tandem) with one or two instructors by your side, holding onto you in freefall but without any mechanical connection.  The canopy ride is done solo, albeit often with a radio.

For many of the technical questions, I recommend referencing the materials published online by the USPA.  Different dropzones may follow slightly different progressions, although many follow the same general standard.  In my case, I believe I did approximately 6 AFF jumps, 4 or 5 coach jumps, a thousand “hop and pops,” and various jumps on solo status.  FYI, in addition to passing all required jumps and meeting all freefall and canopy requirements, the minimum for an A License is 25 jumps.  Other requirements included packing, passing the appropriate knowledge tests, and passing a check dive, among others.  The USPA or your local dropzone can provide more information in this regard.

The USPA offers four levels of licensing: A, B, C, and D, with the latter being held to the highest standard.  Among many other requirements, an A License requires 25 jumps, a D license requires 500 jumps.  All tandem instructors hold a D License.  Once you get your A License and are off of student status, a whole new world opens up to you.  You become a self-supervised skydiver, and much more liability falls on you, as opposed to an instructor or your dropzone.  You are no longer required to wear a helmet, have an instructor check your gear, or be subject to wind-speed limitations.  This doesn’t mean it’s “okay” to not do these things, it just shows that more liability falls on you as a jumper.  In a perfect world, I would like to assume that every skydiver is capable of making smart decisions, even in difficult or pressuring circumstances.  In reality, this is not always the case.  I’m very young in this sport, but I’ve heard some second-hand stories and seem some videos of people making some not-so-good decisions.  I don’t want to be that guy.

Before we begin discussing my experiences as an first-time skydive up to being a licensed skydiver, there is one last subject I want to touch on, and that is legality.  The reason I do this is because it often seems to be misunderstood. Skydiving is, in my opinion, legally comparable to flying an ultralight.  You are not carrying passengers, and are assumed to take on all responsibility for your participation in this sport.  The main exception is for tandem-instructors, although others exist as well, such as certain exhibition jumps.  Most regulation in regards to skydiving deals with equipment standards, the flight of the jump aircraft, and the safety of those nearby that are not involved in the sport. Unlike flying an aircraft, you don’t need a license to [legally] skydive.  That being said, it would be very unintelligent not to, and extremely difficult, as most dropzones will not allow operations that don’t comply with USPA standards.  While some USPA regulations, or Basic Safety Requirements (BSR’s) as they’re called, are rather frustrating to some of us, they are there for a reason, and conducting skydiving operations safely is critical to both the image of the sport as well as our freedom to do it.  It is important to note, however, that skydiving equipment IS subject to federal regulation.  All solo sport parachutes must be of a single-harness, dual-canopy system, meaning that a main and a reserve canopy are both required.  A nylon reserve must be repacked by a certified rigger every 180 days, and a main parachute must be packed by a rigger, someone supervised by a rigger, or the next person to jump it.  Riggers are licensed through the FAA, and their operations are not limited solely to sport skydiving.

I also find it important to mention that all student gear is outfitted with an Automatic Activation Device (AAD). This is intended as a measure against being knocked unconscious, though in many cases seems to apply when people lose altitude-awareness as well.  If maintained and calibrated correctly, it will fire your reserve parachute at a pre-determined altitude, usually 1,000′ or 750′ depending on the person’s skill level, if it believes that your main canopy has not been deployed.


Getting My License

Most of my jumps have been from 10,500 feet.  A couple of them were from 13,500, and I have done more than my fair share of hop and pops, from 5,500 as well as 3,500.  Either way, you’re pretty high up, and you can generally expect to fall over two miles in the course of a matter of minutes.  Is it nerve-wracking?  It definitely can be.  Is it exciting?  Every damn time!

I live in Northeast Ohio, in Greater Cleveland as well as the Akron-Canton MSA.  The majority of my jumps have been conducted at Cleveland Skydiving Center, and while I am biased because it is my home dropzone, it is one I highly recommend to anyone who wants to either learn to skydive or go on a tandem jump.  The staff are extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and professional, but their upbeat and generally relaxed demeanor will help calm many of your jitters. Believe me, there are actually quite a few dropzones within an easy 1-2 hour drive of my house, and there’s a reason I stay primarily at CSC.

So, how do you choose a dropzone?  Well, personally I did a google search, found a dropzone, checked out their website to ensure it looked professional, sent them an email, and discussed training options with them.  It is definitely worthwhile to have a professional, credible dropzone, and doing research, talking to skydivers, and even visiting the dropzone can all help you make a good decision.  There have been a few times as a licensed jumper I had to face the possibility of moving to a new state, and used skydiving groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to get some opinions as well.

How much money do you need to get your license?  This is a hard one to answer, because we all like the concept of a simple flat-rate, which usually doesn’t exist.  The short answer: I spent approximately $2300 to get my A License.  The longer answer?  I never failed a jump and had to repeat it.  Quite a few people do.  Also, due to the way many of the loads just happened to play out, I did a number of lower-altitude jumps, saving a few dollars here and there.  I budgeted the aforementioned amount of money needed for my license, but I never would have guessed how much some of the extraneous costs add up.  There were no “hidden fees” as far as the training went, but I still had to pay for gas to drive there all the time. Let’s also not forget buying water, Gatorade, and food to keep me alert and functional.  Those weekend hangouts at the dropzone?  Spent my fair share of money on alcohol, pizza, and whatever else.  Every skydiver also needs a t-shirt to show that he is one.  Some of these costs are not exactly entirely necessary to get your license, but in my opinion, you’re shortchanging yourself if you skip them.  Skydiving is all about having fun, and being a part of the culture, making friends, and having good times with other jumpers is a huge part of it.

How did I do it?  Aside from the one tandem jump I did a few years back, I started with an AFF class.  This consisted of around six hours of very hands-on ground school training.  There were five of us in my class, and at the time of writing this, I’m the only one I know of with a license.  One guy moved, another one is on his way to getting it, and the other two I have no idea about, although I heard they got injured (not skydiving related).  I asked a friend who is a dropzone employee one time how many people who go through a first jump course end up getting their license, and she said it’s usually around one third.  Some people realize it just isn’t for them.  Some people don’t make it a priority, and are then unable to complete it in a rather quick amount of time because they either lack money or they miss the “good weather days” because they are busy doing something else.  Some people don’t like it because they are too afraid, some people don’t like it because they struggle with the technical aspects of it, and some people probably just don’t like it for no real reason at all.  Besides, we all like what we like.  Basketball doesn’t scare me, and I don’t find it difficult, but I sure as hell don’t like it.  All personal taste.

Now, in my opinion, the first jump course is not terribly difficult.  It is definitely intensive, and it is a lot of information, but you just need to be able to understand the concepts and practice them until you feel sufficient with them.  Or realistically, until they feel that you are.  Mine was small, and while intensive and professional, was rather relaxed. We made friends, we did things hands-on, we asked questions, and we didn’t sit at a desk.  We also climbed countless times onto a mock-up aircraft, practiced our exits, threw fake pilot chutes, and ran through emergency procedures until you start saying them in your sleep.  Ironically enough, we actually saw them get used during our class.  As we walked outside to discuss landing patterns, a tandem jump had a line-over and cutaway without issue.  What were the chances of that happening?  Pretty damn low.  What were the chances of that happening when it did?  Even lower.  Nonetheless, by the time I was in freefall on my first jump and had to pull, I felt confident I could identify and handle an emergency if it came up.

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Main canopy deployment on my third jump.  Courtesy of John Dutton

Is it nerve-wracking on your first training jump?  Goddamn right it is.  My first tandem I honestly did not feel very nervous, and after I landed, I was actually told many people feel more nervous on their second jump than their first.  I can attest to this.  I’m not sure why it is, but my main guess is that many people do their first jump tandem and their second one “solo” as part of an AFF class.  In other words, when that canopy opens up, it’s only you flying it, not an instructor.

Many of my early jumps were conducted in a small plane, a Cessna 180, with what we called a “floating exit,” where you climb out onto the wing strut and let go.  Climbing out onto the side of a plane, at 10,500 feet, with an airspeed of around 80mph, is definitely not a normal feeling at first.

I never failed a jump, although I will easily admit that some were performed better than others.  I also had multiple jumps that occurred 2+ weeks after the previous one, allowing plenty of time for the nervousness and the adrenaline to set back in.  Besides, when you only have less than a handful of jumps, your abilities can very easily start to fade away.  But, summer of 2015 in Northeast Ohio was pretty sub-par as far as weather was concerned, and being 22 and in my first year as a college graduate, I couldn’t throw down the same amount of money each week as everyone else.  Now, I came regularly, built up a rapport, and had an outstanding dropzone, so there were times when I was told to keep jumping when I had the chance, and just pay next week when I got my paycheck.  Trust, connections, and relationships go a long way in this sport.

My AFF jumps were completed without issue.  Techniques I had to demonstrate included practice pulls, altitude awareness, stability, and turns, as well as constant review of emergency procedures.

Alright, now let’s fast-forward a couple jumps to the end of my AFF progression.  At this point, I have about five AFF jumps under my belt, and it is time to do my pre-solo check.  In the words of my DZO, “This is the jump that will change everything.”  I was to do a dive exit (my favorite), perform various in-flight maneuvers such as loops and barrel rolls, and, most importantly of all, demonstrate my ability to recover if I were to lose control.  In short, this jump was intended to put me out of control, to show that I could regain it.  While definitely nerve-wracking, it was extremely fun, and passing it allowed me to move onto solo status.

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“Out of control.” My pre-solo jump, courtesy of John Dutton

In my opinion, the freefall aspects of initial AFF training are not terribly difficult.  You need to be able to relax your mind, focus in a high-pace environment, and practice.  Even without jumping, techniques such as properly arching your back, or using your shoulders to turn, can be practiced in your living room.  I’m not an advanced skydiver by any means, but I am a pilot, a skateboarder, and whitewater kayaking instructor, and I have a general belief that all of these types of sports correlate somewhat with each other.  Part of it is being methodical, part of it is finesse, and part of it is thinking in high-stress situations.  The one thing, however, that was rather difficult for me?  Transferring from flying an aircraft to flying a parachute.  Glide ratios are a lot different, and skydivers under canopy can safely and legally fly a lot closer together than fixed-wing aircraft usually should.  That took a minute to get used to.  I also had my fair share of landings in the field on the dropzone, as opposed to the target landing area.  FYI, most early AFF jumps are equipped with a one-way radio to guide you in on landing.

Freefall techniques become much more intensive as you move onto your coach jumps, although in my opinion are still not terribly difficult.  These included docking, altitude changes, tracking, swoop and docks, etc.  In other words, you go from maintaining stability and basic maneuvers in freefall to being able to fly your body, and greatly start to improve your finesse. In addition, the requirements to be a coach are less than that of an instructor, and there tend to be more of them than instructors.  This generally means that it’s easier to find someone to do them with on a given day, and they are cheaper.

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Coming in to dock. Courtesy of Ethan Landry

Now, I’ve mentioned a few times previously that skydiving is meant to be fun, and even the most intensive of training jumps are still fun.  But believe me, these coach jumps are way more fun than your initial AFF jumps.  The learning curve is steeper, in my opinion, but they are not terribly difficult.  That being said, many people fail a jump, or two, or a few, at some point in their A License progression.  It’s not something to feel bad about, or question your potential in the sport.  As with anything, there are going to be better and worse days.  I had days where I was proud of myself because my instructors told me I did very well.  I also had a day where I bumped a closing pin and my reserve pilot chute fired in the plane.

Every jump with an instructor or coach included a briefing and debriefing, and many instructors used video to help show what I did from an outside perspective.  In my opinion, that is extremely helpful.  In addition, being surrounded by a large number of instructors, coaches, and licensed jumpers was of huge benefit.  It was like learning to fly; if you have trouble understanding a concept, maybe somebody else knows a way to explain it differently.  Every person teaches slightly differently, and every person learns slightly differently.  This applies to anything from skydiving to basic subtraction.

At this point, I’ve covered the AFF as well as the coach jump portions of my training, but there were many other things to consider.  For example, part of the required training consists of “hop and pop” jumps, in my case from 5,500 and 3,500 feet.  I’ve been told that the purpose of these jumps is to demonstrate the ability to gain stability and pull, in case it ever has to be done in the event of an aircraft emergency.  Additionally, hop and pops are cheaper, can be done with low cloud ceilings, and, in the case of many of my jumps, done when the load scheduling didn’t allow for a jump from altitude.  In my case, this was due to having a plane with a five-jumper capacity already having two tandems on it.  Due to the necessity to move around and hook-up at altitude, any fun-jumper who went along had to get out lower.  In my opinion, as well as pretty much that of any skydiver, any jump is better than no jump!

Why do I mention these hop and pops?  Because, for your first time, they can be kinda scary.  The danger is not overly significant, but it is a bit of a change for a jumper who is used to exiting at either 10,500 or 13,500.  In fact, my first “solo” jump, i.e. on solo status after AFF, was a hop and pop.  After I got that out of the way, pretty much all of the nervousness with jumping at full altitude disappeared.

This brings up another question I’ve been asked: how long until the nervousness goes away?  Well, that’s a hard one, because it is different for everybody, and we all probably define it differently.  Fact is, jumping out of a plane is not natural, your body is not made to do it, and I’ve known many confident, experienced jumpers who still say they feel a little something before each jump.  However, in my case, it was around jump 14 or 15 that the vast majority of the nervous feeling was gone.  In fact, while I definitely got rather nervous before many of my coach jumps and my check dive, it was due to the feeling of “being tested,” and not necessarily out of fear for my safety.  Differing levels of nervousness and excitement will vary per the jump in my opinion.  Different aircraft, different dropzones, different altitudes, different maneuvers, and different equipment can all pose a new feeling of slight uncertainty.  There are also the physiological factors to account for, such as your level of alertness, and the psychological ones, such as external factors in your life unrelated to skydiving that might be in the back of your mind.  In my humble opinion, if you’re having a bad fight with the girlfriend, you might want to consider sitting that day out.

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First group flight after my A License. Courtesy of Jim Prinzo

I’ve gotten a ton of “What if?” questions from aspiring skydivers, and I will refrain from getting into detail regarding these as they will be answered during your training by somebody more qualified than myself.  Off-landings, clouds, malfunctions, etc. are all touched upon, and believe me, emergency procedures are not taken lightly by instructors.  We ran through them before every AFF jump.  Being able to identify an issue, such as a line-over or a slider that isn’t all of the way down, is a key part of training.  Accidents are near-always preventable, and many result from a chain of mistakes, not just a single one.  I covered this extensively in flight school and undergraduate studies with regards to the overall aviation system, and it seems rather similar in skydiving.  In addition, complacence and stupidity cause their share of issues.  I think it is very important to understand and be able to accept that skydiving is an extreme sport, with unpredictable variables, and you can do everything right and still get killed.  The “it can’t happen to me” attitude has no place in this sport.  It’s also just as important to address what is known as “comparative optimism.”  This is the belief that you will not suffer the same mistakes as somebody else, because you are somehow automatically, more careful, more deliberate, or more intelligent just because you are you.  If you plan on being smart, careful, and deliberate, as you should, you need to recognize it is something that takes careful effort as well as the ability to make very difficult decisions, and is not something that is automatically granted to you because you just happen to be you.

How long did it take me to get my license? A lot longer than it should have.  Approximately four months total elapsed time, but still pretty much equivalent to the general time of 1-2 months, if I were jumping every weekend.  All of June and half of May were weathered out, as were various weekends afterwards.  After all, like I said, this is Northeast Ohio.  Early on, when jumps required 1-2 AFF instructors and a ground instructor to work the radio, staffing considerations were of heavy importance.  Let’s also mention the fact that I quit my job, so money was a huge factor that limited my ability to jump.  Most of the season we had one plane available, with a five jumper capacity and a half-hour ride to altitude, which definitely gave us a lower amount of jumpers per hour than say Skydive Arizona, who could do hundreds if they wanted to.  A surprising amount of dropzones rely off one or two Cessnas; not everyone has a nice King Air or Skyvan on-site always at the ready (but, if you get the chance to visit a dropzone that does, definitely do it).  Some places offer courses where you plan for getting your A License in a week, some places offer a general suggestion of a month or two.  Some people take multiple seasons.  Of course, the concept of seasons is a geographic one.  Skydive Arizona and Skydive Deland have more jumpable days than anything in Ohio, or Wisconsin, or the Pacific Northwest.

Now what? Having a license is not a magic master key to the world of skydiving.  There are a number of different licenses and ratings that exist.  Certain aspects of flight, such as flying a camera or a wingsuit, require a minimum number of jumps (200 for those examples).  Night jumps, balloon flight, and other aspects of the sport I have yet to do, have their own unique requirements.  Some dropzones require a B or C License for any jumper, such as Skydive Dubai’s Palm DZ, and some dropzones have various landing areas that are only open to a particular license.  Coaches, AFF instructors, and tandem instructors are each subject to their own unique prerequisites.

Nonetheless, receiving that license still opens up a vast amount of opportunity to continue to build your skill and experience. Being able to do group freefall formations is far more fun than just jumping solo.  Being able to make your own decisions regarding equipment or wind speed is a great amount of freedom, although it requires an extreme amount of sense and responsibility.  In all honesty, one of my favorite parts of having a license is that I am no longer required to wear a jumpsuit. At the time of my writing this it is a rather moot point, since ten thousand feet up in the air in October is all but warm, but I do not at all miss the crowded rides up to altitude, in a small plane, wearing a jumpsuit when it felt like it was a hundred degrees outside in the middle of the summer months.

Having that license opens up many travel opportunities.  Being as you no longer are required to have instructor supervision, it is far easier to travel to different dropzones and make a jump.  You can rent equipment virtually anywhere that offers it, and you having a license puts far less liability on the dropzone itself.  Plus, any licensed jumper can sign-off on your logbook.  Being able to jump without an instructor on-board is a definite plus.  Now, let’s talk about the one last aspect of skydiving, and probably one of the most common things asked.


What does it feel like? 

The classic answer is “it’s like explaining sex to a virgin.”  You won’t know until you do it.  I describe it as taking your girlfriend out to dinner, saying your food is really good, and her asking what it tastes like.  You could try to describe it, probably giving some half-assed, fumbling description, or you could just let her take a bite and taste it for herself.

The average terminal velocity for a solo skydiver in a conventional belly-down position is around 120mph.  In practical use, we say about a thousand feet every five seconds, which equates to two hundred feet per second.  In other words, every second you are falling more than the height of Niagara Falls.  However, you generally don’t notice it that way. You don’t always have a frame of reference for relative motion, and if you do it’s usually a cloud or the aircraft you exited from (and believe me, that one doesn’t stay in sight for very long).  Once you hit terminal velocity, which from a floating exit usually takes 9-12 seconds, you are no longer accelerating, and are maintaining a constant speed down.  Some people say it’s like being on a giant fan.  Regardless, in my opinion, it does NOT feel like a roller coaster drop like everyone tends to assume.

Why do we do it?  Everyone has their own reasons, and to be honest, we all probably have many.  If you ask me, I would say you get to experience flight.  Before I flew powered aircraft, I flew a Schleicher ASK-21 glider, and had an instructor jokingly say there’s a difference between flying and driving a plane behind an engine.  Human body flight is an indescribable experience, and as you progress as a skydiver, you see yourself getting better at it and pushing new limits. By the way, through tracking, it is very feasible to fly your body horizontally at 100mph in freefall.  Also, very few people get to experience the pride of body and canopy flight.  Every time you fly, you are doing something many people would never do, or even be able to do.

I don’t think we’re adrenaline junkies, even though I have affectionately used the term before.  The reasoning being is that the adrenaline, the fear, the nervousness, are not consistent, and all but go away in many cases.  Your first skydive is a life-changing experience.  Every skydive you do is an amazing opportunity and an awesome time, but eventually you can land, pack your rig, have a calm demeanor and heart-rate, get in your car, and drive off to work or dinner or class like nothing happened. That overwhelming adrenaline rush and the non-stop jitters might not be there on every jump or every landing, but the pride will.  The enjoyment will.  The sensation of precise, finesse human body flight will.


It’s Jump Time

So, go out there, have fun, and skydive.  If you don’t want to, that’s perfectly alright.  If you have never jumped but really want to, or at least think you want to, fork-out the money and go for a tandem jump.  You might be addicted, you might have little or no interest in pursuing the sport seriously afterwards, but I can give you a 99.999% guarantee that you will enjoy the hell out of it.  If you enjoy it enough to want to do it every now and then, but not do anything crazy with it, there’s nothing wrong with just doing the occasional tandem jump.  AFF courses are intensive, expensive, and time-consuming. Hell, you might even have a hard-time ever getting your parents, spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, or children to ever understand why you would even want to.  Pursuing a skydiving license is not for everyone, but to anyone who has jumped and has the feeling that they want to take this sport more seriously, go out and do it.  I hope you see it through to the end, but even if you don’t, if you at any point decide it’s not from you, you will have experiences that most people never will.  The times you have, experiences you get, stories you tell, and the friends you make are something that nobody can put a price on.

I’ll leave you with one last tidbit of information, and I encourage anyone to share this with their friends and families who are somewhat interested, but not entirely sure:

People in their 90’s and 100’s have tandem skydived, and blind people have passed through AFF.

Clear skies and calm winds,

Matt Jackson

United States Parachute Association

Finding a Dropzone

Answers to General, First Jump, and Licensing Questions

Skydiver’s Information Manual – USPA

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Childhood, Coming of Age, Memoir

Being a Military Brat – The Childhood I’m Most Thankful For

As I began to grow up, I truly started to realize how different each person’s life truly was.  Our childhoods, our experiences, and, most importantly, our definition of “normal” vary considerably. In many respects, I had what many would consider a “normal” childhood: two loving parents, a sibling, a cycle of various different pets, and a family that was able to put food on the table, buy school supplies, and take an annual vacation.  However, there was one aspect of my life that separated it from many, and that was being a military brat.

Being the son of a father who is active duty Air Force, my life came with everything you would expect from a military household.  Every time my dad had a permanent change of station, it was time to move again.  This meant new schools, new friends, new surroundings, and even new social norms and subcultures.  These moves were not even consistent, although most happened after a period of one to three years.  Many occurred during the summer months, although a few occurred in the middle of the school year.  Some occurred with more warnings than others.  Most significantly, many of these moves brought with them a new way of life.  Constant transitions occurred, including living on base versus living in the city, atmospheres changing from being surrounded by many children my age to living in a house that almost felt isolated, to even the simple changes of climate, which required changes to everything from your clothing to your daily routine.  And, worst of all, this is all in addition to having to build new friendships, new social circles, and essentially, a new way of life. Nearly everyday I would read a book or see a TV show where a character would reference being “friends with somebody since kindergarten,” something I was never able to have.

From my experience, to somebody who has never lived through this kind of life, it comes across as sounding virtually unbearable.  Many of my friends have lived in the same house since they were born, and have had the same or a similar circle of friends for nearly as long as they have been alive.  Their extended family lives within an almost trivial driving distance, and their family has lived in the same area for generations.  What they consider to be “far away” is no greater than my daily commute to work.  They look at me with awe, as if they could never imagine any good from coming out of this life.  However, as I grew older, went to school, entered the workforce, and started to build a life for myself, I started to realize how thankful I am for this, as some would say, “abnormal” childhood.

Being a military brat came with its number of benefits.  For example, living on a military base provided a level of safety, and it was normal as a young, elementary aged kid to grab your friends, grab your bikes, and ride around the area with relatively little worry.  Military amenities, such as shoppettes, pools, and the BX food court were all within short biking distance.  I got to experience F-15’s flying over my house as a normal daily occurrence.  And, to top it off, I even received my own unique ID card at age 10, which, for some reason, was the coolest thing ever back then.

However, the greatest benefits came as a byproduct to what many people consider to have be the most difficult obstacle of all: moving.  As you move around, you have the opportunity to see different subcultures, different ways of life, and different geographical areas.  Small towns?  Been there.  Large suburbs?  Been there.  Each coast?  Been there.  I’ve seen the canned, carbonated drink that I refer to as “soda” be called by more different names than I knew existed.  You can tell fascinating stories, and be told, affectionately, that you have an interesting life.  For some of us, the constant moving develops a very outgoing nature, a de facto requirement for constantly making new friends.  I credit this trait with finding success in my first sales job during college, and ultimately leading to securing a job as an account executive with a multi-billion dollar firm.

Ultimately, though, I thank my military brat childhood for leaving me with what I consider to be my most important trait: feeling unchained.  I have lived in six different states, moved regularly, and on average, see my extended family twice per year.  To me, this is “normal.”  There was no hesitation in my mind with going to college hundreds of miles away from my family.  When people ask me if I miss my family, I tend to look at them rather dumbfounded, and reply with, “Well obviously.  I definitely miss my family.  But it’s 2015.  I can call them anytime, and Skype and Facetime are always an option.”  When I look at where I would potentially want to move, important factors tend to include anything from climate to job markets to local recreation.  Factors such as, “How far away are my parents/sister/grandparents?” or “Do I know anybody here?  Have I lived here before?” are essentially just added bonuses if you will.  In fact, in my personal opinion, living in the same place as to which I grew up would almost drive me crazy.

To this day, it still surprises me how many people are unwilling to relocate or pursue new opportunities due to fear of losing everything they are attached to.  To be honest, I find this completely understandable.  However, when you grow up with a very mobile life, seeking new opportunities and pursuing passions in a new area becomes attractive.  You feel a sense of freedom, and have an unique ability to be able to dive headfirst into something new.  This mentality is ultimately to what I credit my education, experiences (such as receiving a skydiving license this past summer), and virtually everything on my resume.  I have found myself applying for jobs anywhere from Washington D.C. to Atlanta to San Mateo, California.  When you hate the concept of feeling “stuck,” your only other option is to move forward.  Moving creates a sense of self-confidence, proving to you that you can overcome obstacles and build things up for yourself.

Finally, there is one last aspect that needs to be touched.  You realize what is truly important, and manage to hold it dear to yourself.  The house I spent a few years in before moving off to college?  It’s just a house.  The school I went to for 7th grade?  It’s just another one of many.  However, the experiences you gain, the friendships you build, and the family you go through hardships with are things that you realize can never be taken away from you.  A good friendship doesn’t get destroyed by you living somewhere else, and I have friends that I have seen on and off for years.  Being able to see every corner of the country, gain a wealth of knowledge regarding many different ways of life, and developing the ability to adapt to ever-changing situations are things that very, very few people are fortunate enough to share in.

At twenty-two years old I have lived across the country, built up lasting friendships nationwide, and have nurtured an adaptable, ambitious character capable of handling change and overcoming obstacles.

I am a military brat.

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May Flowers – Cheat River Festival 2015

April showers bring May flowers. This old adage to me has always felt like a way people would just try to justify weather that they don’t like.  When you live in Ohio, springtime weather doesn’t make sense.  From somebody who has monitored the weather on a daily basis for years as a pilot, I will preach this til I die.  I think some people are tired of the winter and just want warm sunny weather, and rain puts a damper on their plans, so they justify it with the metaphor of flowers blooming in May.  Realistically, though, who cares about flowers?

For whitewater kayakers, however, April showers can create some fun times.  In many areas, the spring snowmelt (and associated higher flows) is over.  Now, we are starting to rely on a combination of rainy weather and dam releases to have some fun.  Sure, rain isn’t as predictable as snowmelt, and sometimes involves stopping whatever you are doing in order to grab your boat and drysuit and go make a run for it.  Any kayaker in Ohio who has paddled Tinker’s Creek knows what I mean by this.

Every year, the first weekend of May is the amazing event that we call Cheat Fest.  Hundreds of experienced boaters pile down to Albright, West Virginia to set-up tents and cots, drink beer, eat greasy festival food, and enjoy the many miles of paddling that the area has to offer.  Cheat Canyon, Cheat Narrows, Upper Yough, Lower Yough, and multiple sections of the Tygart are all within a reasonable distance.

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Cheat River Campground

Cheat Canyon is a beautiful and exciting run.  A Class IV run with a Class V+ shuttle (pick your lines and don’t bottom-out your car), there is nothing like it this weekend.  As an added bonus, the campground is at the put-in.  Literally.  Carry your boat 100 feet, and in you go.  I am a huge fan of big water, something we don’t really have in Ohio, so needless to say this run is worth the trip.

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Decision Rapid, the “entrance”

A nice thing about the Cheat is how it begins, with a rapid named “Decision.”  For most paddlers, this allows for a nice little warm-up, finding tongues and working our way around holes.  For some, it is a reality check, giving them the “decision” to hike out if they need to.  The entire river is read and runnable, although I’d recommend following someone’s lines (and/or scouting) a few rapids, notably High Falls. Very fun rapid but it can get shallow and sketchy.  Let’s not forget the other good ones, such as Big Nasty, Coliseum, and Pete Morgan, the latter two being my favorites on the river.  Some correct lines are also a little intimidating (“Wow I should not be this close to that rock/hole”), but hey, that just adds in to the fun factor.  The holes in this river can give you one hell of a beatdown.  Not only that, but good luck hiking out the river after Decision.

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Pete Morgan Rapid. Hug the rock and land the drop!”

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Riding the initial tongue into Big Nasty.

The only photo I have at the moment (until I get around to some video screen-grabs) of Coliseum is a first-person shot taken while approaching the top of the rapid.  I’m not posting it because it does not do the rapid any justice.  The line through Coliseum involves finding a tongue between two holes, a tongue which is not much wider than your kayak.  Extremely fun rapid, but I would not want to be in those holes, especially Recyclotron on the right.  Oh, and don’t fight too hard to make a path around one of the holes, because if you do, you are setting yourself up to quite possibly just be going into the other one.  Immediately following Coliseum is Pete Morgan, and extremely fun line that involves hugging a rock while riding over a drop, all the while not getting surfed at the bottom.  Caught a beautiful eddy right after the drop; just another reason why I like a boat with edges.

Cheat Canyon is a blast, especially if you spend most of your time read and running.  Plus, then you might get to spice it up with a few not so great lines, all the while side-surfing and fighting your way into a trashy pillow of water or fun wave train and bracing and punching your way down.

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Great playspots and great lunch spots

Pete Morgan is also a very fun rapid to run, eddy out, and watch other people drop through while standing and videotaping from a rock.  I’ve seen some pretty funny carnage there.  This is also a very good river to remember to throw yourself into a rock if you get pushed into one.  Some of them can be kind of funky, but in a fun way.

This river is a very good warm-up for the real excitement, which is the shuttle out.  Very rocky roads, wide enough for a single car, alongside drop-offs.  All-terrain vehicles are not a bad idea here.  My Honda Civic? Forget about it. I’m catching a ride with somebody else, even if I have to bribe them with a six-pack.

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As far as the festival goes, it is a very chill time.  All of the main camping, even if off festival grounds, is within an easy walking distance.  In my memory is correct, there are less food, gear, and souvenir tents than Gauley Fest, and it’s a little more difficult to buy and sell used boats, but the food is amazing, and if you enjoy bluegrass music, this is the place for you. 10845849_10206874859372908_7605201688295985085_o

If you want to buy new boats, open canoes, or squirt boats, you are in luck.  All of the aforementioned were available for sale, and in large numbers.  Piles upon piles of boats were out for adoption, of every make and model.  Liquid Logic was showing off their new Braaap, Blackfly Canoes had a few different models available, Russ’ Ribs had a food truck with some outstanding food, and probably every 2014 boat model from any of the major manufacturers was available, in a multitude of size and coloring.  The festival attracts many non-kayakers as well.  WVU students, locals looking to check out the festival, artists selling their work of all kinds, the list goes on.  To top it off, they even had a smoothie stand.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, I was only able to drive down this year Friday evening (after the race), and had to drive back Saturday evening, spending a total of close to 10 hours in a small car with a Wavesport Recon jerry-rigged onto the top.  And there is no question in my mind that it was worth it.  All kayaking festivals are fun.  Cheat Fest, Gauley Fest, Stoneycreek Rendezvous, Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, you name it.  But something stood out about Cheat Fest.  It has an aura to it that I find difficult to describe, but worth experiencing.  Being able to lay on a cot in a peaceful nighttime environment and falling asleep while looking up at the stars is always a pleasant experience.

After some very fun time hanging out at the campground and festival, I had to unfortunately turn back and head to Northeast Ohio, arriving just after midnight, in one of the most physically-tired states I’ve been in in a long time. Nonetheless, it was worth it because I spent the following day at a dropzone doing my first non-tandem skydive, and believe me, pulling that cord and flying a canopy around by yourself, while descending a couple thousand feet and maneuvering yourself to a safe landing, is a feeling that nothing can replicate.

Every large kayaking event leaves me with the same belief: go to festivals.  If you have to take off of work, do it.  If you have to spend $100+ in gas money to get down there, do it.  If you need to bring your dog down with you because you can’t find somebody to feed him, do it.  Besides, they love the festival as much as we do.

Now, we count down the two weeks until the next one.

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-Cheat Fest

-Gauley Fest

-Stoneycreek Rendezvous

-Falls Fest

-Bridge Day (BASE festival, but might as well paddle the New River Gorge while you’re there)

The list goes on.  These are just some of my favorites; there are way more festivals than this that are worth going after.  Last but not least, let’s not forget the race happening on the Little White Salmon!

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Advance Your Life – Travel and Relocate. And Often.

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[Clockwise From Top Left: Manhattan Skyline (NY), Stoneycreek Canyon (PA), Cuyahoga Falls (OH), Great Falls Virginia and Center Lanes (VA)]

I grew up moving, all the time. I’ve lived in places all across the country, from as short as barely a year, to three years, four years, etc. As a kid, it was stressful at times.  Sometimes I moved in the middle of the school year.  Usually, I didn’t know anybody.  Sometimes I would say goodbye to somebody and never see them again.  As with anything else in life, it came with a cost.  However, it also came with its advantages.  Are the advantages of constantly moving and traveling worth the cost?  Does it create a “profit” or metaphorical “net revenue” of sorts?  Well, that’s rather subjective.  But if you ask me, it is a solid, 100% “Yes.”

It seems that wherever I go, there are people who are deadset in believing that where they live is better than somewhere else.  “I hate the city,” or “I hate the country,” or “I hate the West Coast,” etc.  In fact, I hear this all the time.  And to be honest, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion. After all, having an open mind means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

Being open minded means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

However, I always felt that I had a bit of an advantage.  I got to see many different geographic areas, climates, subcultures, etc. which, I feel, allowed me to judge things a little more objectively.  Personally, I’ve seen relatively few people spend their whole lives in the exact place where they grew up.  I’ve also seen relatively few people marry the first person they dated, or spend their career in the first job they’ve had.  Fact is, you probably don’t know exactly what suits you, or what is the best fit, and there is a bit of a trial and error process in place.  We’re human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The question becomes, why are people afraid or otherwise unwilling to give things a try?  There are multiple reasons, but one is opportunity cost.  In a lot of cases, trying something new would mean giving up something else.  And since we can’t see into the future, you are taking a risk by doing so.  Other reasons could include complacency, i.e. being happy with where you are and not really desiring anything else.  Resources can be tricky (moving and traveling are not always cheap!), economic factors can come into play, and to be honest, somebody could realistically come up with any reason they want as an excuse not to get out and do something new.

Well, I for one believe that virtually any argument has a counterargument.  Taking a risk, and possibly losing something you already have? Well that’s a reality.  And in many facets of life, success is impossible without risk.  However, that’s why risk is calculated.   I’ve kayaked over waterfalls, jumped out of airplanes, and applied for jobs I had no prior experience in.  Yes, in the end there is a roll of the dice involved.  But if you put an amount of preparation and rational thought into things, you mitigate that risk.  If the reward is therefor greater than the consequence, the risk is no longer “unnecessary.”

Happy with where you are?  Well, that’s fine.  But are you always going to feel that way?  Is your good situation permanent? Have you even given other things a chance?  These answers will vary person to person, and everyone is different.

Are you lacking resources?  When people say they lack resources, I turn around and say “are you lacking priorities?”  Generally speaking, if you put your mind to it, it can be done.  Blind people have climbed Mount Everest and kayaked the Grand Canyon.  Other people have lost hundreds of pounds of weight, while others have climbed from poverty to multimillionaires.

Prioritization is a game of sacrifice

If something is important, you will find a way.  If it’s not, you will find an excuse.  I’m not telling you what your priorities are or what they should be.  Do what is important to you, just make sure you find a way.

Packing your bags and moving somewhere new is a difficult thing for anybody.  So let’s go ahead and switch gears a bit, and focus on traveling instead.

There are approximately 7.2 billion people inhabiting 57.5 million square miles of land on this planet.  Every single one of them has a unique story, and many of them possess knowledge and skills that you don’t (I only say “many” because saying “all” would be a slightly flawed and oversimplified methodology considering that some of them are recently born infants). After all, if you look at history, you will see how the spread of ideas influenced technological development worldwide.  When the Inuit were using kayaks decked with stretched animal skin for hunting, did they ever think that eventually the same craft they helped invent would be created from rotomolded polyethylene and taken over 100′ waterfalls?  Probably not.  But ultimately you could trace the genealogy of this sport back to the hunters inhabiting Alaska and Greenland that created the first versions of the vessels we used.

Ultimately, many skills and inventions are derived from necessity or convenience.  Peoples that inhabited wide areas of desert would have little need for watercraft, and peoples in tropical areas wouldn’t have the same need for extremely warm clothing than those living in the northern extremes.  Additionally, it always made sense to make the most of what resources you had readily available. In other words, some peoples would naturally be more experienced with fishing, while others would find creative ways to farm on less than fertile grounds.  Even more simple examples would come down to things such as local cuisine.  As people would move, ideas would spread, creating a wider base of knowledge and skills for mankind.

I am a firm believer that traveling and trying new things carriers more benefits than it does downfalls, and can provide many benefits to your life overall.  The following reasons in support of traveling are crafted from a combination of my own personal experiences, as well as the testimonies of others.  I firmly believe that they apply in an overwhelming amount of circumstances.

1. Breaking out of your comfort zone

Let’s face it, going somewhere you’ve never been, with different customs and ways of living, in addition to any logistics difficulties, can be daunting, especially if it is a place with near polar differences from what you’re used to.  You might make a fool of yourself, you might not like the food, you might get lost somewhere, the list goes on.  But when you are pushing through these possibilities, you are breaking out of your own comfort zone.  From my experience, breaking out of your comfort zone, and accepting risk, is a skill in and of itself.  In other words, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it.  Who knows, maybe over time making that big business decision or asking out that one girl may become easier, or in the least you might be able to do it in a more clear state of mind

2. Networking and making connections

Many large businesses have their corporate headquarters and various branch locations placed in all corners of the globe.  When I worked as an outdoor sales representative, I was offered a job in real estate in a city I’d never been to from a company I’d never heard of.  After conducting some research, I concluded that it was a pretty good opportunity, even though I passed it up for a better one.  Every single day, you never how who you might meet that could change your professional life forever.

3. Personal connections

Similar to the aforementioned point, but on a non-professional level.  I’ve met people out of the blue on all kinds of random trips and adventures, people that I still hang out with to this day.  I have very many friendships, and a couple past romantic relationships, that occurred as either a direct or indirect result of traveling somewhere new and stepping out of my comfort zone.  After all, how many people live on this planet?  And how many of them live in your hometown?  You get the point.

4. The stories you can tell

Experiences are worth more than physical objects.  Some of the best times of my life occurred in a living room or around a bonfire with some of my closest friends, reminiscing on the times we had.  “Hey bro, remember that time we………?” Personally, those are moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.  When you grow up, you won’t remember the times you stayed home and did nothing.  Time is a nonrenewable resource. Once you use it up, you’ll never get it back.  And the time you spend sitting on the couch watching television, does it really do much to enrich and help fulfill the adventure we call life?

5. The food

Let’s be real.  There are a ton of deep reasons to get out, explore, discover yourself, and try new things.  And there are also the simple ones.  Personally, I try to avoid chain restaurants when I travel, unless it’s a chain that’s localized to a certain geographic area (such as Zaxby’s down south).  This article is not an advertisement, and I receive no money for this, but I will give out some of my favorites:

  • Kilroy’s, Indianapolis, Indiana (one of my favorite pub/grill places I’ve ever been to)
  • Planet Pizza, Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Buffalo’s Reef, Fort Walton Beach, Florida
  • La Zona Rosa, Montgomery, Alabama

I’ve probably had jerky made from every non-endangered animal species in existence as well, in addition to all other types of things that might be considered taboo or otherwise weird by our traditional culture.  As long as it won’t make you sick or kill you, try everything.

6. The ways of life

There are people that life off of way less than we do, and are very happy.  There are people that live a busy, fast-paced life (I tend to fall into that category quite a bit), and are very happy.  Some people forego cars for other forms of transportation, some people drink moderate amounts of alcohol during the work day.  It’s easy to fall into the general culture or subculture of a particular area, and forget about or disregard other options.  This, in my opinion, is huge.  I’m a firm believer that it is okay to question things, to think outside the box, and to not accept “well that’s just the way we’ve always done it” as the sole justification for the way things are done.  This open-minded way of thinking, if used properly and appropriately, can be used to reap many benefits in the workplace, community, and overall life.

7. The mystery

I like to consider myself an “interesting” person, and I’ve always liked and respected people that followed suit.  It allows for you to keep a sort of mysterious air around you, to allow people to have an intrigued interest in your life.  Even more so, it allows you to be seen as a leader or at least as a motivator and inspiration, for those that want adventure in their life.

8. The bonds that are created

It’s not about how long you know somebody, it’s what you and them go through.  Through traveling, exploring, extreme sports, etc. I’ve developed very strong bonds with people, resulting in some of the best friendships and relationships I’ve ever had.  Adventure and excitement can bring out a lot in people, and do well to bring them together.

9. The skills and knowledge

I never learned the best way to grill a homemade pepperoni calzone over a campfire until I went camping in a small town out west that I’d previously never heard of.  It was a couple days and a thousand miles of trial and error that taught me the best ways to strap down multiple kayaks into the back of a U-Haul motorcycle trailer and tow it behind a four-door sedan.  Honestly, the list goes on and on.  Some skills are minor and rather specific, some are broad and overarching to many areas of life.  This comes down to the whole concept of “there are many people out there that know things that you don’t.”

Also, if it’s safe to do so, try taking a taxi in D.C. sometime.  The drivers there have some very interesting stories, and come from all different parts of the world.  A very eye-opening experience.

10. The fun!

This shouldn’t need much of an explanation.  And it is a subjective word and different for everybody.  Maybe you enjoy four-wheeling in a golf-cart, maybe you enjoy parasailing in Outer Banks.  It doesn’t matter where you live; you can’t do any activity you want in your hometown.  Get out and go do what you want to do!

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Now, there is no “one size fits all” with how to travel, what to do, and how to use it to benefit your life.  Personally, I see somebody who travels a lot as somebody who has passion, drive, an open-mind, a wealth of knowledge, the ability to take risk, the discipline to make their dreams happen, and a will to always keep learning.  These attributes can all be played to your advantage at a job interview or on a resume, or honestly even if you’re trying to impress a woman or be the life of the cocktail party.

It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone. It’s okay to make certain decisions off of impulse.  It’s okay to take risks. The key is knowing when and what, to be able to play your cards so that the final result is of benefit to yourself.  

The final thing I want to touch on, is technology.  We live in the days where everyone’s phone is a portable GPS receiver.  We live in the days of Skype, Facetime, Facebook, mobile internet, and telecommuting.  Gone are the days where you leave friends and family behind, only to talk to them with the occasional telephone call or snail mail correspondence.  More and more jobs can be done partially or even fully while on the move or away from an office.  If you want to take a big step in your life, and relocate or travel, this is the time to do it.  Resources are out there, and with a bit of preparation and research, you can make big things happen.

Now, get out there, live your life, and remember: it’s passion that keeps us alive.

Article and photos by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article please feel free to contact me.  I intend for these types of articles to be open-ended, subjective, and a potential way to create discussion.  If you have any comments you would like to add, or any parts of this article you would like to argue against, by all means, I encourage thoughtful discussion.  More than likely, I will be writing a follow-up article on some ways to make travel and relocation possible, efficient, and (relatively) inexpensive, that I have learned from my personal experiences.  As I think of new things to add, or notice any revisions that need to be made, a revised version of this article may be posted without notice.  Again, as I mentioned above, if there is anything you would like to add, by all means, feel free to contact me!

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Ohio Kayaking – Fighting Boredom in the Midwest

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[In addition to writing, I am also an amateur videographer and am working on a feature film of the name “Fighting Boredom in the Midwest.” Expecting to debut late August, 2015]

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The Midwest, like many named regions, has no defined political boundaries, and the true definition of “Midwest” can be rather subjective.  I live in Northeast Ohio.  Is that really Midwestern?  Debatable in my opinion, but generally a “yes.”  Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, are they all considered the Midwest? I’d say so without hesitation.  Maybe one could define it by a process of elimination of sorts. Does it count as the East Coast? West Coast? Pacific Northwest? Southeast? Southwest? New England? If not, then it’s probably the Midwest.  Again, however, these are all pretty much subjective definitions as well, and true boundaries are hard to define.

There is a stereotype floating around that the Midwest is flat, barren, sparsely populated, full of nothing but corn and soybeans, and is a boring, low-key place.  However, from somebody who has not only lived in and traveled all over the Midwest, but is also a licensed pilot and has flown over it extensively, I can very easily say this about the aforementioned notions………they are pretty much on point. This place sucks.  Short and simple.

(People like to throw out counter arguments and reference cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis, both of which are absolutely amazing places in my opinion.  If you ask me, however, they are the exception and not the rule. Also, Summit County, Ohio is a beautiful place worth visiting.)

I grew up in Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington D.C. before moving out to Northeast Ohio to go to school.  To me, it made sense to try somewhere new, far enough away from home to be away, but close enough to be able to return a couple times per year in half of a day’s drive.  I still reside in Ohio, until I can transfer to a different office.  However, instead of complaining about where I am, I’d rather make the most of it, with the amazing friends and resources I have here.  Now, let’s get into the adventure seeking, adrenaline-filled highlights of an overlooked area.

Ohio Creeking

Whitewater kayaking gave me a sense of purpose in an otherwise difficult time of my life, in addition to some of the best friends somebody could ask for.  But wait, Ohio is flat and dry right? Wrong. Remember, we are on the gray area boundary of the Midwest and, in my opinion, definitely not in the Great Plains yet.  Ohio is definitely not a good state for whitewater, but it has it’s crown jewels, including, yes, some steep creeks and other fun rivers, including:

  • Cuyahoga River (Upper and Lower Gorge)
  • Tinker’s Creek (Often considered the most fun in Ohio)
  • Sagamore Creek
  • Chippewa Creek
  • Rattlesnake Creek

Cuyahoga River Upper Gorge/Sheraton Section – Class V, 75fpm*

*Per American Whitewater, and my own observations, this section drops 60′ in just over 1/10th of a mile

AW Description

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Second Drop

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First drop

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Entrance to the first drop

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Nearing the lip of the first drop

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Eddie on river left to scout the second drop

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Second drop

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Ian running the river right side of the second drop

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“Staircase” line on river left, skipping off of a shelf then running the left line of the boulder garden at the bottom. The more common line

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The end of the whitewater, in a beautiful gorge. Following the falls there is a nasty boulder garden followed by two very easy holes

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Midair on the first drop

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A hole above the first drop has flipped the occasional boater

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What the whole second drop looks like. Staircase line is on far river left, the boulder garden “The Jumble” present downstream. The far river right line is a sieve that loves to collect wood and can have dire consequences. The Jumble can be run on the left or right side, with the left side being easier and less consequential. These rocks are always changing, and as myself and many others can attest, this is a very terrible place to swim

There are many things that contribute to the awe of the Sheraton Section.  First off, it is located right in the heart of Cuyahoga Falls, alongside the Sheraton Hotel from which it gets its name.  95% of the time, you will have some spectators cheering you on from a balcony.  Secondly, the gorge is beautiful, and even hiking it can be a very fun, somewhat technical, and physically demanding hike.  Third, it is runnable at a wide range of flows, and as long as there isn’t ice (ice in this section gets bad), it is runnable the majority of the year.  Runs at extremely high water have been done successfully, but leave no room for error, and are not recommended.  Fourth, there are bars and restaurants all within walking distance.

2014 Short Video Compilation

Tinker’s Creek – Class IV-V, 120fpm

AW Description

Unlike the aforementioned Sheraton Section, Tinker’s Creek rarely flows (save for spring snowmelt; in 2015 it flowed for a week straight).  Additionally, the “main” section of Tinker’s Creek can be run below recommended levels, resulting in an easier run, sometimes Class III/III+.  Tinker’s Creek flows over Tinker’s Falls, a Class 5.1 20+ foot drop with a rather fine line and a shallow pool that requires a definite bit of water to get flowing, through a bending tunnel, into a series of rock gardens before opening into a few miles of easier waves and holes.

When Tinker’s Creek flows, it’s a big deal.  There is something else about the mystique of Tinker’s that somebody once pointed out to me.  “A lot of the big name pro kayakers have probably never paddled this.”  An extremely fun creek, that is very demanding, but flows so unpredictably and drops faster than anything I have ever seen.  Somebody once jokingly told me “If you want to paddle it at 500cfs, gather your gear and start driving to the put-in when it’s at 900cfs.”

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Tinker’s Falls at below runnable level

I paddled this river at mid-December last year, and portaging the falls might have been one of the sketchiest parts of the trip.  The ground was frozen over with ice, and the guard railing that you need to climb over was frozer over with ice.  Luckily I was only carrying a Wavesport Fuse at the time, not a nice fat creek boat.

All of the aforementioned photos were taken at around ~520 cfs, mid-December 2015.  On the lower side of runnable (per AW, 400 is the general “minimum runnable flow.”) , but still class IV/IV+ to keep you on your tows. Not to mention the delightful mid-winter water temperature.

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Upstream entrance to the tunnel

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The tunnel empties into a slide which empties into an intimidating hole. Good times; definitely gives you quite a bit of speed

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The aforementioned hole is friendly enough to give you full stern squirts without any effort

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If only it was easy to take out, hike up, and run the tunnel multiple times

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Fun river, with some fun slides, slot moves, holes, and avoiding being backendered here and there

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With it’s fair share of surf spots

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The gorge is absolutely stunning

Climbers may enjoy the gorge almost as much as kayakers do.  Trees also like the creek, since they seem to fall into it all the time, creating a little bit of an inconvenience or, if you’re not being observant, danger.

Sagamore Creek– Class IV

AW Description

I have been dying to give this creek a try.  I only know of it being run once, in late 2013, and have talked to a few of the people that ran it. Looks like a blast, comparable to Tinker’s (even has its own tunnel!), but it’s never really run.  I have a few guesses as to why:

  • Since it hasn’t been run much, it hasn’t been very advertised or talked about much
  • It takes a LOT of water to get it flowing. I was told 700cfs and rising on the Tinker’s gauge. Extremely difficult to plan for in advance
  • If Tinker’s is flowing, people generally tend to want to run Tinkers. I opted to try out Rocky River once instead of Tinker’s, and I wished I ran Tinker’s (save for the end of the day when two of us ran a section of Rocky at relatively higher water with some small drops, a slide, a river-wide ferry, and very good food at a local bar.  Rocky River scrapes by as a Class III and isn’t something I’m going to touch on much in here)
  • In line with my first point, many people just haven’t heard about it

I will give this place a good scouting sometime soon, just to see what it’s like and somewhat familiarize myself with the location.  Fortunately, one of my friends and I have talked about running this when we get the opportunity, possibly for its second descent ever, and it should be a great time.  Besides, I cringe when I see an American Whitewater article with few or no pictures of the river, and I take it upon myself to fix it.

Chippewa Creek- Class V+*

*Probably unrunnable these days in my opinion.  Maybe would turn into “questionably runnable” after going out there with some chainsaws to get rid of some strainers.  The falls at the entrance, however, are runnable

AW Description

I’ve scouted this once at low water (Tinker’s wasn’t flowing, Cuyahoga was reading around 1000 I believe).  Holy sieve fest.  I know of a few people who’ve ran it, and know one or two of them personally.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s been close to a decade since it’s been ran.  Additionally, I’ve been told it’s changed since then due to flooding, and somebody I know who has ran it in the past said it very well might not be runnable now, save for the falls at the entrance.

However, this is an absolutely amazing place to hike.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Video of low-water scouting

(Video disclaimer: I had no intention of making a video when I went out there; just happened to have my GoPro with me at the time and brought it.  It’s a little shaky, and since I didn’t plan on making a video, I didn’t bring any sliders or tripods)

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In the aforementioned video, many angles of the creek’s last drop are shown, which even at low water, creates a hell of a sieve that empties into a cave.  In other words, it’s a very fun scout and hike, but don’t fall into that.  The top of the drop is a pool, where water flows down a narrow slow between two rocks.  When I was there, it was very serene, with almost completely still water at the top and a beautiful view on all sides.

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Appears smaller in the photograph than in person. Not a place I’d particularly want to be

Rattlesnake Creek- Class IV 

AW Description

A 20′ waterfall. Takes a LOT of water to get flowing.  Has been run by my friends who live in the area at very low levels, but when you have a 3 hour drive to get there, “very low levels” isn’t really worth it, especially when I have the Sheraton Section nearby.  From what I’ve heard, as far as 20′ waterfalls go, this is notoriously easy and fun, and can be a park and huck if you set ropes.  I’ve been dying to run this thing.

The Outer Circle

Now, what if instead of only focusing on local creeks in the Northeast Ohio area (plus Rattlesnake, which is on the other side of the state), we broadened our horizons slightly, and considered other areas within an hour’s drive? Or a couple hours?  I’m not going to touch much on these.  Everybody’s familiar with the Lower Yough and the Gauley.  Slippery Rock Creek and Stoneycreek Canyon aren’t as well-known nationwide but are still extremely popular spots for those not more than a couple hours away.  As kayakers, we don’t expect to walk out our backdoor and into a park and play or a steep creek.  Driving long distances and setting up tents for a few days is a part of the sport.  I’ve driven from Northeast Ohio down to central West Virginia and back, four hours each way, on a single day by myself while sick to buy a boat and get out on some new whitewater and went to work the next day.  I’ve taken day trips often on 2-3 hour drives each way with a group of people, and I’ve had whitewater trips where I’ve camped out in what was basically a torrential downpour, enough to bring the Lower Yough up significantly over the course of a single night.  That’s the beauty of kayaking; paddling the river is only part of the overall experience.

I yearn for the day I can move permanently to the Southeast, where rivers such as the Tallulah Gorge, Ocoee, Gauley, etc. are much more feasible as far as time and logistics goes.  For those that aren’t familiar with Western PA, or parts of West Virginia, I’ll throw a few more pictures into the mix.  Just for fun.

Kayaking Ohiopyle Falls, September 2014

Falls Fest 2014, Ohiopyle Falls. My Wavesport Fuse never lets me down!

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One of my favorite photographs I’ve taken; the top of Ohiopyle Falls

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Middle Meadow, West Virginia, 1400cfs

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The mill at Slippery Rock, around 3 feet. Beautiful place when there’s snow on the ground

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Someone getting swallowed at The Slip

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The Slip

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs. Fun wave trains

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The classic seal launch at The Slip

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Lower Yough: got to the put-in and realized one of my screws was came loose and disappeared. Was advised to jam a stick into the hole, with the reasoning that it would swell up and plug it. To my surprise, it held tight all the way up through river’s end

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Snow just adds to the beauty

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KeelHaulers Canoe Club April, 2015

I highly recommend checking out the Keelhauler Canoe Club.  A great bunch of very talented paddlers who I am proud to be a part of.  Far more whitewater rivers exist in Ohio than just those that I have mentioned.  In addition, there is some outstanding hiking in my area.  Brandywine Falls, Brecksville Reservation (Chippewa), Upper and Lower Gorges in Cuyahoga Falls, just to name a few.  Drive a little further, and you have beautiful areas such as Hocking Hills State Park, Mohican, and Allegheny National Forest, just to name a few.

Sure, this isn’t the Southeast or the Pacific Northwest, and I yearn for the day when I can move permanently to the Southeast.  Nonetheless, wherever you are, there is always something else to do, somewhere else to be explored.  You don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to get outside and have an adventure.  Get out, travel, explore, and see what the world has to offer!

Written by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article, by all means feel free to contact me.  I also wish to bring recognition to organizations such as Team River Runner, American Whitewater, and Friends of the Crooked River.  Whitewater kayaking has an amazing community, and over time many barriers to entry for this sport have been mitigated.  If you are wanting to learn but unsure how to go about doing so, feel free to contact me and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.  In addition, be on the lookout for courses offered by the American Canoe Association and the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  Lastly, even though I mentioned you don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to have an adventure, extreme sports bring out a feeling that nothing else can!!

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